Fraser Island Ferries: Is Rainbow Beach Better Than Hervey Bay?

Fraser Island Ferries on the beachIf you are planning to hire a 4WD and create your own itinerary to drive on Fraser Island, you’ll face a critical question early on: how to get to Fraser Island and which of the Fraser Island ferries is the best for your trip? This article will provide some information about the different Fraser Island ferries and some questions to consider before making a choice.

The different Fraser Island ferries

You can catch a ferry to Fraser Island from two places:

  • Hervey Bay, to arrive on the west side of the island (at Wanggoolba Creek or Kingfisher Bay)
  • Rainbow Beach, to start your visit at the most southern point of the island, on the east side (at Hook Point)

How to choose between those Fraser Island ferries

1. Where are you coming from?

The answer could be evident. If you are arriving from the north of Queensland (north of Hervey Bay), then you may prefer to catch a ferry from Hervey Bay. And if you are coming from the south of Queensland (Sunshine Coast, Brisbane, Gold Coast…), then Rainbow Beach appears as a logical choice.

But it may not be that simple.

2. Where are you going?

If you want flexibility and you are planning to stay on the east coast of Fraser Island (where most of the iconic landmarks are located), then accessing via Rainbow Beach is your best option, no matter where you come from.

Why? The ferry to Fraser Island takes three times longer from Hervey Bay than Rainbow Beach. And it takes at least another 45 minutes to drive from the west to the east side of Fraser Island. More ferries leave from Rainbow Beach. It’s cheaper and faster to cross from there, and you’ll arrive on the right side of the island.

Still looking for accommodation on Fraser Island? You can get the wildest experience by camping on the beach (you will need permits), behind the dunes. But you’ll have to take precautions to protect your food and equipment from the dingoes. If you don’t want to worry about dingoes, you may opt for an enclosed campsite. And if you don’t like camping and want to upgrade while still being in touch with nature, I loved our stay at The Beachcamp Eco Retreat*.

If you’re staying on the west side of the island, at the Kingfisher Resort*, and coming from the south (Brisbane, Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast), I recommend comparing driving times according to when you plan to arrive. Still, I believe you’d be better crossing via Rainbow Beach if you don’t mind the bumpy inland track.

Why? Taking the ferry from Rainbow Beach to Fraser Island won’t be longer (and it may even be faster) than from Hervey Bay. And the adventure would start earlier as you’d drive in a scenic place rather than on the boring A1 (especially if the tides are in your favour and you get to drive on the beach from Noosa). But if you’re after a smooth trip and not fond of 4WD, then catching the ferry from Hervey will suit you best.

Rainbow Beach 4WD vehicles waiting for Fraser Island ferries
4WD waiting for the barge at Inskip Point (Rainbow Beach)

3. The costs of Fraser Island ferries

It is cheaper to take the barge from Rainbow Beach than from Hervey Bay. For a standard 4WD, it is:

Fraser Island ferries from Hervey Bay

There’s a very limited number of boats going from Hervey Bay to Fraser Island. You may need to book well in advance if you are travelling during the peak season. They request that you arrive 20 minutes before the booking time and it takes 30 minutes to reach Fraser Island.

Five ferries per day go from Hervey Bay to Fraser Island Kingfisher Resort* (view departure times here). Three boats per day go from Hervey Bay to Wanggoolba Creek (view departure times here).

How to pay for your Fraser Island ferry from Hervey Bay

You will need to book in advance by phone or by email (see contacts here). And don’t forget that you need a permit to drive on Fraser Island.

Fraser Island ferries from Rainbow Beach

The barge from Rainbow Beach does return trips all day from 6.00am to 5.15pm. There’s no need to book. The crossing only lasts 10 minutes, and they increase the number of barges during the peak season, so you rarely wait for more than 30 minutes.

How to pay for your Fraser Island ferry from Rainbow Beach

You can show up at the barge when you’re ready as no booking is required. However, it is recommended to buy a ticket in advance. You’ll find many shops that sell them in town, such as petrol stations. You’ll need your ticket to come back, so make sure it doesn’t get lost with all the gear when you pack to go back to the mainland. I also always take a photo of my ferry ticket, just in case. Make sure you purchase the necessary permit to drive on Fraser Island.

Have you been to Fraser Island? Which ferry did you take? Share your experience in the comments below!

Responsible Travel Tip: It’s fun to drive on the sand, but not eco-friendly at all. If you’re up for a special experience on Fraser Island, you may be interested in tackling the Great Walk or hiking from the west coast to the east coast. It’s perfect to avoid the crowd!

Map of Fraser Island Ferries

When planning a trip to Fraser Island, I recommend downloading the official map of the national park. Don’t only look at the distance. Always keep in mind that you can drive a lot faster on the beach than on the inland tracks.

Inskip Point in Rainbow Beach (in blue on the map below) is approximately 3 hours north of Brisbane (180 km). River Heads in Hervey Bay (in purple on the map below) is approximately 3h45 north of Brisbane (300 km).

*These are affiliate links: I will receive a commission if you make a purchase using this link but this does not affect the price you pay. It helps me maintain this website. 

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